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Friday, January 30, 2009

Korean Johanna

Em turned me on to this. I don't understand a word she's singing, but I want to find a high quality recording of her singing this to play on my hi-fi.

For the uninitiated, she's singing Green Finch & Linnet Bird from Sweeney Todd. But in Korean.


Worried about the global financial crisis? Freaked out that your job is in danger? In other words, do you think you have problems?

Dig it, this is a picture of an old chum of mine, a friend from my high school days. He's on his way back from a little holiday in Hell.

And by Hell, I mean Goma, in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. This is a guy who joined the Peace Corps fresh out of college and now works for an outfit called Mercy Corps. So he's seen some bad stuff in his time, and in his email to me he said, "Seriously, this place is a mess, probably the worst place I've ever been."

So what I'm saying is not that you have no problems. You do. I do, we all do. But if you're reading this blog, you have a computer and an internet connection, so I'm going to take a wild guess that the last water you drank did not come from a puddle, or even from the enormous truck you see here with my mate and a local, a truck they used to deliver fresh water to refugees.

These photos, by the way, are courtesy of Roger Burks and Mercy Corps. If you're reading this, you're probably used to the silhouette of a Colt .45 handgun getting the circle/slash logo to indicate it's unwelcome in the local library. Imagine a place where they have to remind people to leave their machine guns at home.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Seeking Herb

No, not that kind of herb. An herb almost as hard to find as weed, though. Ambica Foods at 91st & Metcalf gets their curry leaves from Hawaii and that apparently avoids the whole Mad Orange Disease* problem. Though the story I just linked there says Hawaiian curry coming into California is what started the whole problem. So who knows? As another Indian grocer put it to me, it's not like we grow oranges in Kansas. The Midwestern Citrus Crop could be wiped out next year and have less economic impact than a speeding ticket.

So here's the evil leaf, presumably fumigated to protect my lemon and lime groves. I think I need to pick up a piece of ginger, and then I'll be set to do another Goan-Style curry, though this time I'm doing tempeh instead of shrimp.

*Mad Orange Disease is my new nickname for Citrus Greening Disease, which is carried by Asian citrus psyllids which are, in turn carried by curry leaves. Curry is related to citrus by marriage, I think.

Pesto Sub

Meatballs, provolone, baguette, and just a drizzle of pesto sauce. Mmmmmm. Only thing that would make this sandwich better would be some fresh greens (all out except for herb, but that's another post—presently).

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Petite Meatballs (Kinda Petite, Anyway)

I made meatballs again, but I changed some stuff up. Like I made the meatballs smaller this time. I enjoyed homemade meatball subs with the last batch, but I didn't like having to unhinge my jaw to get a bite off of one.

I used a 1/4 cup measure last time, this time I just kind of eyeballed it. A tablespoon was too small, and I didn't have a 1/8 cup measure. There's a bit of variation in size as a result, but they're overall more or less bite-sized.

Recipe-wise, this one was different, too:

1 lb. Cosentino's 'Hot' Italian sausage (fine grind, last time I used their coarse stuff which is too hard to mix well)
1 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. ground pork (the beef and pork were sold together as a 'meatloaf' package
2 cups bread crumbs (I discovered how easy it is to make fine, uniform bread crumbs with the blender)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 eggs
2 tablespoons tomato paste
some crushed red pepper
freshly ground black pepper
Form into approximately two-tablespoon size balls, dredge in flour, brown in olive oil. Drain on paper towels, then transfer to roasting pan. Finish in 350ºF oven for 15 minutes, draining a second time on paper towels (in addition to being sure the meat is cooked through, this last step helps sweat out as much fat as possible).

I put some away with rigatoni and Alfredo sauce to take as lunches to work, and set the rest aside for sandwich duty. Including the sandwich I had for supper this evening. It would have been a perfect sandwich, but the baguette had gotten tough and no amount of microwave trickery would make it behave. The rest shall become croutons and I'll get fresh bread tomorrow.

For this evening's sandwich, I topped the meatballs with a bit of Alfredo and melted some provolone over it all.

Look What Em Made Me

A gay paper crane!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Goan-Style Shrimp Curry & Empress Dal

Okay, another recipe in the Kansas City Scar that looked so good I had to try it.

A pair of recipes, actually, Goan-Style Shrimp Curry and Empress Dal.

The recipe called for fresh curry leaves. I didn't even know curry was a leaf. For all I knew, curry powder was some sort of pulverized seed or root or not even a single spice but a cocktail of several. In fact, that latter notion was probably the closest I came to thinking I knew what curry was, because it seems to come in pastes of varying colors, intensities, and composition.

So I set out to get fresh curry leaves, Sambar (which is a cocktail of spices similar to Garam Masala), and Amchur (powdered dried mango), the main things I was missing in my pantry if I was going to attempt this.

You'd think a joint named India Emporium would have fresh curry leaves if anyone would. But the man explained that you had to get them from Florida, that there was a bunch of strict Department of Agriculture rules about how you keep them and what produce they can be exposed to and I don't know what-all. He didn't say if he meant the USDA or the Kansas state version. The long and short of it was it was theoretically possible but more trouble than it was possibly worth.

He suggested a bit of dried fenugreek in the oil up front as a substitution, and being he's from India, I decided to trust his judgment. 'Maybe a teaspoon, maybe too, but not too much or you'll overpower everything. Indian food is about balance.'

Fair enough. Some of my past attempts at various Asian (and other) cuisines have been marred by injudicious use of Oh-My-Gawd-That's-Hot. So I figured I'd keep it to two teaspoons and follow the recipe faithfully.

I was a bit peeved that the Scar would run a recipe you couldn't actually get the ingredients for locally. The problem is the recipe and article were poached from a San Francisco Chronicle piece that was, in turn, poaching recipes from a book called American Masala.

So I'm thinking in a little mini-tirade on the way home about how they ought to grow their own. A daily metro should have its own food writers and they shouldn't write about shit they haven't cooked.

I get home and decide, out of curiosity, to call the Whole Paycheck Market and see if they ever got fresh curry leaves in. Big corporation, they could do the paperwork, probably, to cover the whole chain and then maybe it wouldn't be un-doable.

No, their produce manager told me, but there's an Indian market across the street from us that gets them.

So I start calling other Indian markets and find that some claim to have fresh curry leaves, another said, 'Not until Tuesday.' One didn't answer the phone, and after I was already cooking, the guy called me back. He doesn't even have a store, it turns out, he sells at farmer's markets and was willing to meet me at a Starbucks near his house if I wanted some curry leaves.

Like I was buying weed or something. So I asked him what the deal was with the Department of Agriculture and the India Emporium, and I admit his accent was strong enough I don't think I got all he was trying to tell me. But I did get 'another stupid idea from the American Government,' and 'It's true if you're importing from Florida but there are local growers, greenhouses and no need for importing out of Texas or Florida.'

I also gather, there have been other seasonings common to certain Indian dishes that the U.S. has banned importation of or even sale as a food product, and this is a sore point among Indian grocers who are just trying to supply other Indians with ingredients to make the food they grew up on. I can dig it, the United States government is often the Olympics of bad ideas, especially bad ideas meant to protect people from themselves.

So anyway, the Scar wasn't guilty of running a recipe I can't get the ingredients for, only for running a recipe with an ingredient harder to obtain than marijuana.

Anyway, without the shuck and jive, the recipes:

Goan-Style Shrimp Curry
for the marinade:
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 pound peeled & deveined shrimp
Combine the marinade ingredients with shrimp and toss to coat; stick in the fridge while you make the sauce.

for the sauce
1/4 cup canola oil
2 teaspoons dried fenugreek (or 24 fresh curry leaves if your dealer can fix you up)
4 dried red chillies
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon salt
3" piece of fresh ginger, peeled & minced
1 medium onion minced
2 cloves garlic, peeled & chopped
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 cups diced tomatoes (canned, partially drained)
1 teaspoon Sambar Masala
1-1/2 cups coconut milk (one can, actually, I think it was a 14 ouncer)
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Heat the oil with the fenugreek (or curry leaves) and peppers 1 to 2 minutes; add the black pepper and cook for 1 minute more. Add the ginger, onion and salt, stirring often as it cooks another 8 minutes (until the onion is translucent and turning brown, adding a quarter cup of water to prevent sticking. Add the coriander, garlic, turmeric and cook another minute before adding the tomatoes. Simmer 5 minutes then stir in the Sambar and coconut milk. When this starts to simmer, add the shrimp with residual marinade and simmer 2 minutes longer. Stir in cilantro and serve over steamed basmati rice.

Empress Dal
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
3 dried red chillies
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 clove minced garlic (or 1/4 teaspoon asafetida, though I didn't have any of that on hand)
1 cup washed and drained lentils
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon Amchur (dried mango powder)
1 teaspoon salt
Combine cumin, chillies, turmeric and oil in saucepan and heat one to two minutes, stirring constantly. Add the garlic, lentils, cayenne and amchur and cook a minute longer, stirring constantly. Add 3-1/2 cups water, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes. You can thicken the dal by putting 1/2 cup or more into the blender and returning it to the Dal, though in my case it was plenty thick without this step.

I'm not nuts about Dal, it's good but only in modest quantities. Maybe I need to find another Dal recipe to try.

The curry, on the other hand, I had to make myself stop eating before I'd gorged myself. Not too hot, extremely savory and complex. Like the man said, all about balance. You can taste the cilantro, the coriander, the shrimp, the ginger, etc. The whole thing comes together in a sublime blend.

I can't wait to try this again with the fresh curry leaves. And maybe experiment with tempeh in place of the shrimp.

A note: make sure to either measure your ingredients ahead of time or have the measuring tools and ingredients lined up and organized before you start to cook. My first crack at the Empress Dal, I scorched the first four ingredients while trying to get the Amchur open. And making the curry, I had to pull the skillet off the heat and hunt for my coriander. Pretend you're on a cooking show, just have it all ready to dump in. Dice the veggies and everything before you put heat to the oil.

I did some digging into the whole business about unavailability of curry leaves was. Turns out, and this appears to be pretty recent, there's a citrus pest, the Asian citrus psyllid, that has been found on fresh curry leaf shipments. This pest carries 'citrus greening disease,' which I gather is the mad cow of oranges, a thing so destructive, just it's name will make a citrus farmer's bowels turn to water.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Do I Seem Desperate?

I honestly don't give dating much thought except when I meet someone interesting. Which normally means someone who only seems interesting at first or else isn't much interested in me.

I'd only be available three nights a week, tops, anyway.

So anyway, I've heard ads for Rosetta Stone language software for about ever now, and I've always wanted to branch out into foreign languages but I've never gotten around to doing it. Spanish, probably, as that's the one that's most likely to be useful to me living in America.

Their ads keep plugging a free demo disc. So I went to their web site, and failed to get the disc sent to me but ended up doing an online demo, where they show you a snippet of how they present Turkish.

And Em comes down to my den and catches me trying to learn a bit of Turkish (Adam=Man; Kiz=Girl, etc.), and she says, 'This has to be because of a girl.'


'If you're learning Turkish, you must have met a Turkish woman!'

Nope, no Turkish women. Maybe I should get their Russian CDs so I can go get that mail-order bride I'm obviously desperate enough for...

Spelling B

I made it to Em's spelling B in time. They had us adults in a separate room and used a camera to show us our kids.

It was cute. This was a blend of fifth through eighth grades, so you had kids who look way too young to go to school with Em along with kids who look way to old.

There was an Alfred E. Newman type who was probably four-foot nothing who made it to the final two. And a girl who could easily have been a high school senior except for a coltish awkwardness. She made it pretty far, too, repeatedly nailing the spelling with a transparent doubt followed by a bubbly surprise that she was still in the hunt.

Em got knocked out in the second round on a word she knows, 'refute.' She claimed, after the fact, to not know the word. I said, 'Allow me to refute that.' Then, when she told her Mom on the phone the same thing, there was a pause followed by, 'That's what Daddy said!'

But it was a screwy word list. How is 'kaleidoscope' (second round)easier than 'velvet (final round)?'

Pepperoni & Baby Bella Za

This was going to be Goan-style Shrimp Curry except I didn't get the curry leaves, Sambhaar and shrimp.

So we had pepperoni & mushroom pizza. It was going to be pepperoni (and what amounts to a cheese-bread for Em's delicate palate), but Mo told me she wanted mushrooms.


I've never seen her eat shrooms before, and it's the kind of thing I basically have to dare her to try normally. But then I couldn't keep her out of the baby bella's while I was working on everything else.

I've been trying to learn to do a hand-tossed crust. One that never sees the rolling pin. I get flour everywhere, but so far I haven't gotten the result I'm after.

I sweated the pepperoni out in paper towels as usual, to cut back the fat and allow the top layer of it to crisp up a bit without burning the rest of the pie. Used Alfredo sauce, as usual too.

Maybe one of the better pizzas I've ever made, actually.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Long Damn Night

Mo got up at 2:45 this morning. For the day.

I tried to get her to stay in her bed, I tried to get her to sleep in my bed. I sat out in the living room with her.

Whenever I thought she was back to sleep, or at least contained in some way, I'd hear the computer in the kitchen and it would start again.

My dreams were filled with trying to get Mo to sleep, dreams of waking up to realize she was still up and getting into stuff again. Except in my dreams I'd be outside the house, several doors down trying to reason with her, realizing that she was awake and clear out there about the same time I realized I was nude from the waist down and the sun was coming up.

At least I hope that last part was dream. I haven't heard anything from my neighbors to indicate that part really happened.

So this afternoon, she's been asking to take a nap. If my total lack of sympathy were a bomb, there would only be a crater where my subdivision used to be.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Diabolical Pesto Pasta & Butternut Squash

To go with the rigatoni tonight, I had some butternut squash roasting, then started a sausage based sauce.

1 lb 'hot' Italian sausage, browned & drained
16 oz. Classico Sun Dried Tomato Pesto
4 oz (or so) Garozzo's Diablo sauce (this was a remnant I had in the fridge; it's a sauce with great flavor but far, far too runny)
crushed red pepper to taste
1 can black olives, drained
freshly chopped parsley (to garnish)

I'm disappointed in this rigatoni. It's a different brand (I forget which) than what I've been buying, and I bought it because the noodles were bigger around. But they have a thinner construction and they go from undercooked to limp almost instantly. The rigatoni I've been buying lately, you about can't overcook it. You can cook it, add sauce, reheat in the microwave later and it's still chewy stuff. This rigatoni barely survived to the table.

I roasted a couple butternut squash while I was at it. It's such a great side dish, and I figured the leftovers would be good to take for lunch. I still had the seeds from last week's squash in a Galdware in the fridge, so I added the seeds from today and had three squash worth of seeds to roast, which makes a batch or so.

Em tried the butternut last week and liked it, or said so anyway. Tonight, I had to coerce her to get her to try a tiny taste, which she already had 'yuck' formed in her mouth before it went in.

Mo ate her pasta and wanted to go get on the computer, and when I said not until you eat that squash, she downed it (saying mmmm-hmmm, but making a face). Em told me I was teaching her bad eating habits, like I'd loaded her plait with huge portions and forced her to clean her plate before leaving the table.

The bad eating habits are not eating what's put in front of you, kiddo. It's a fight I lost with my ex back when I was working nights and she was on her own with the kids most evenings. My failing as a father, really, one I've tried unsuccessfully to correct.

Next time I get married and make babies (not likely), I'll do it differently.

Em did like the roasted seeds, though.

Hilarious (NSFW)

A friend of mine forwarded me a link to this.

Papa Legba Rides Again

This is an old favorite, but I did a few things differently this time. I originally made this with canned black beans, but the past few batches I've been working from dried beans. I've also tended to overcook the beans. If you simmer long enough, they burst and thicken the broth, but a straight 90 minute boil (after an eight hour soak) leaves the beans with a lot more body. I might try moving a small portion of the beans to the blender and returning them to the pot in the future to get the body of the broth up without compromising on the texture of the beans themselves.

I also smoked my own andouille this time. The smoked version I've relied on in the past was unavailable, so McGonigle's non-smoked version was smoked on my Weber with mesquite chips. Weber kettles make poor smokers, but I didn't have to worry about the sausage actually cooking through as it would be simmered in the soup, so I mainly picked up smoke flavor.

I put more chipotle powder in than I should have. It's good, but the heat is obscuring other flavors, though I used enough cilantro in the pork stock I based the soup on that I can taste a hint of that.

So basically:

2 gallons pork stock
2 lbs black beans, soaked 8 hours
2 lbs smoked andouille sausage
1 onion, chopped
1 tbsp. minced garlic
3 ribs celery finely chopped
1 carrot finely chopped
dribble of olive oil
Chipotle powder to taste

Sautée the onions & veggies in the olive oil, then melt the pork stock into the pot. Add beans, simmer for an hour; add sausage and simmer another 30 minutes.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Only Thing We Have To Fear Is Hope Itself

The Obama inaugural love bombing by the Kansas City Star and USA Today left me a little ill.

I've never seen anything like it, for any president from any party. And here's a news flash for you, this is just a man. A man who came from one of the most corrupt political machines outside Russia, and who faces problems harder than a 12 x 12 Rubik's cube.

I'm glad to see W. out of commission, but I'm beyond skeptical abut this substitution.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Secretary of Drivel

So I hear this on the way into work the other day.

Here's the deal: Quincy Jones wants a job with Obama's little Operation Camelot. But this is ridiculous. Government has a role in life but not in the realm of art.

Remember Robert Mapplethorpe? I actually like what little of his work I've seen. But a lot of people think it's obscene, and it really is obscene when those people are required to pay him.

Metallica paid him for an album cover, fair enough, but you go taking tax dollars from some Baptist Deacon, don't be surprised if he gets in your face about it.

But aside from the fact that you beg for censorship when you use tax dollars to fund the arts, a cabinet level arts czar is the worst thing you could do for actual art.

Jazz, Rock & Roll, Blue Grass, Hip-Hop, Scrimshaw, anything America ever contributed to the world of art came about not because of government but in spite of it. In fact, every contribution would probably have met with resistance, successful or not, by that government if the state had been in the cultural loop. Putting government in the position of advancing art is like putting parents in charge of teenager's slang.

So Quincy, you should know better. If you want a job with the incoming Administration, I bet you could find one if you want it bad enough. But a Secretary of Culture? For a start as a taxpayer, I'll just say hip-hop is not art, are you ready to rumble?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Stockathon Continued

Beef stock this time. A couple packages of beef oxtails and a couple of beef 'soup bones' are the central ingredients. The great thing about it, they practically give you this stuff because it's basically what you have leftover after you butcher everything someone would want to eat from a cow.

I added a lot more veggies, herbs, and spieces than a lot of stock recipes call for. But that's my way.

I put some olive oil in the stock pot and dropped the onions in first to sautée them, then started adding the other ingredients.

2 bunches parsley, loosely chopped
6 ribs celery, coarsely cut
6 carrots, also coarsely cut
28 oz can 'crushed' tomatoes
some sliced baby bellas I had left over in the fridge
a bunch of peppercorns
about two tablespoons minced garlic
a bit of salt (not much, really)
two packages of beef oxtails
two packages of beef 'soup bones'
some rubbed sage
some dried thyme leaves
a cup of cooking wine
water to top up 4 gallon pot

When I feared the onions and whatnot at the bottom would scorch, I covered it all with cold water and commenced to simmer.

As you can see, I didn't even bother washing the pot. The pork stock had just been emptied out of it.

Anyway, after seven or eight hours of simmering, I strained it off and chilled it to facilitate removing the fat. I'll probably make noodles this weekend.